This image shows Jupiter in infrared and visible light. Credit: International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / NASA / ESA, M.H. Wong and I. de Pater (UC Berkeley) et al.

NASA Spacecraft Offers Unprecedented Details on Jupiter’s Atmosphere

The latest set of data from Juno revealed unexpected features of the Great Red Spot: it may be much deeper than expected. Astronomers also studied two other vortices on the gas giant that do not fit in the known atmospheric models.

Planetologists from the team of the interplanetary station “Juno” presented the results of a study of the volumetric structure of three Jupiterian vortices – a cyclone and two anticyclones, including the Great Red Spot.

It turned out that the famous anticyclone goes much deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere than previously thought. Moreover, the other two vortices extend below the level of condensation of water vapor, which also does not fit well into the current models of the structure of the atmosphere.


Juno revealed new fascinating details about Jupiter’s atmosphere

Juno mission

Juno has been operating in orbit around Jupiter since mid-2016, exploring the gas giant’s atmosphere, magnetic field, and interior. Thanks to her, scientists made a number of discoveries, in particular, they saw the dynamics of the Jupiterian auroras, found sprites and thunderstorms in the giant’s atmosphere, and also built a map of the planet’s magnetic field.

Scientific tasks

One of Juno’s main scientific tasks is to study the internal structure of latitudinal zones and belts that make Jupiter appear striped, as well as to determine the structure and study the long-term evolution of hurricanes such as the Great Red Spot.

Earth compared to the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Credit: JunoCam Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; JunoCam Image processing by Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Earth Image: NASA
Earth compared to the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Credit: JunoCam Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; JunoCam Image processing by Kevin M. Gill (CC BY); Earth Image: NASA

The Great Red Spot

Planetary scientists working with Juno’s data have published new results. A team led by Marzia Parisi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory analyzed gravimetric data to determine the depth of the Great Red Spot, the largest anticyclone in the solar system that has been observed in Jupiter’s atmosphere for more than three centuries. Earlier estimates were based on data from the MWR instrument and were about 240 kilometers. The new work gives much larger estimates – from 200 to 500 kilometers.

Characteristics

Scientists distinguish two features of the Spot. First, from the point of view of the ratio of length and width (0.5 percent), it loses to earth’s cyclones and anticyclones, for which the size ratio is 1-4 percent. Secondly, it is not yet clear why the depth of the Spot is many times less than the atmospheric currents surrounding it, which control the anticyclone and extend three thousand kilometers into the interior of the planet.

Depth

Another group of planetary scientists, led by Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, analyzed data collected by the station’s onboard microwave radiometer. They managed to estimate the three-dimensional structure of three atmospheric vortices (including the Great Red Spot), which were observed during the approach of the station with Jupiter. Scientists have confirmed the conclusions of the previous group that the Great Red Spot goes deep into the atmosphere for no more than 500 kilometers.

Horizontal sections of three eddies: a - Great Red Spot, b - cyclone, c - anticyclone. Credit: SJ Bolton et al. / Science, 2021
Horizontal sections of three eddies: a – Great Red Spot, b – cyclone, c – anticyclone. Credit: SJ Bolton et al. / Science, 2021

Other vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere

The other two vortices (cyclone and anticyclone) extend below the condensation level of water vapor, to depths of over 80 kilometers (at a pressure of 20 bar) and over 150 kilometers (at a pressure of 100 bar), respectively. The detection of individual vortices below the condensation level of water vapor suggests the presence of small-scale dynamic processes, such as precipitation and downdrafts in the atmosphere, in much deeper layers than previously thought.


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Sources:

Fletcher, L. (2021, October 28). Jupiter: Mission unveils the depth and structure of planet’s shrinking Red Spot and colourful bands. The Conversation.
Friedlander, B. (2021, October 28). Juno craft provides first 3D view of Jupiter’s deep storms. Cornell Chronicle.
Howell, E. (2021, November 1). NASA’s Juno Probe reveals secrets of Jupiter’s atmosphere in 3D. Space.com.
Mack, E. (2021, October 29). NASA captures Jupiter’s ‘beautiful and violent atmosphere’ in 3D. CNET.
Margetta, R. (2021, October 28). NASA’s Juno: Science Results offer first 3D view of Jupiter Atmosphere. NASA.
Phys.org. (2021, October 28). NASA’s Juno: Science Results offer first 3D view of Jupiter Atmosphere.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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